At the far end of the room from this modular consumerist architectural folly is something even stranger -- a robot that appears to be from a 1930s science-fiction movie, which, upon closer inspection, is also made of cardboard boxes. These boxes, however, are custom-designed to be constructed into this figure. And instead of the inert matte beige facades of the inverted packaging, the robot has a minty-green, specially printed outer skin, complete with fake dials, E Chen‘s corporate logo, recycling symbols, and elaborate illustrated multilingual instructions for the robot’s assembly.
Although it appears to be a mass-produced novelty item -- a promotional gimmick for the video release of some retro sci-fi movie, maybe -- it is actually a carefully crafted one-of-a-kind objet d‘art, mimicking a commodified abstraction of the human body, made from boxes but containing absolutely nothing. He seems ready to engage his counterpart -- a wall engineered from containers with their alluring and informing exteriors turned inward, away from him, showing only the fragments of these incarcerated appliances designed to intersect ergonomically with a real human body -- dials, keyboards and handles. Yet his clunky, clawlike appendages don’t fit the equipment, and he doesn‘t need any coffee.
Chen has taken the most universal sculptural units of our everyday experience, and with a slight but laborious transformation exposed their secret aesthetic identity, which is powerful enough to carry its own weight. In proceeding to apply the same unnerving operation to us, he has multiplied the work’s meaning exponentially, and recoded it into a sad and funny narrative tableau. Just in time for the holidays!